In a building and a city under the assault of the elements, there are some rather unsettling flurries of controversy:  a prominent journalist is terminated for some off-mike remarks, some people are ejected for racially-tinged incivility and now one former reality show "celebrity musician" is taking another to task for....wait for it....making a joke about something that's true in the political culture.

The common element to all these kerfuffles is race.  I had actually expected some kind of brouhaha about the gaps between the party's rhetoric on abortion and the more moderate sensibilities of GOP moms who want their daughters to have at least a few choices.   The party platform now enshrines a policy of "no exceptions" for rape, incest or the life of the mother.   Recent events seem to make clear that the gender gap between Republicans and Democrats is now wider than ever, what with Rep. Todd Akin inventing entirely new mechanisms for contraception in his Senate race, then refusing to withdraw despite widespread calls for his exit from within his own party.

No, the big thing is race, and some of it is prompted not by criticism from without, but from narratives from within.   Ann Romney essentially characterized the failure of Hispanic voters to consider Republican values in terms of bias:  not the bias of god-fearing nativists within the GOP, mind you, but prejudicial views on the part of Hispanics regarding whether they and their relatives would be welcomed.   Because, of course, any bias that Latinos have regarding the GOP couldn't possibly be based on anything actually done or endorsed by Republicans.

Got that?  If issues are raised regarding race, it can't be the party's fault, it must be the people outside the party who are practicing the politics of division, and shame on them.   That would be a narrative I could sympathize with, if in fact all issues regarding race are simply a smokescreen, to exploit divides that already exist.   By extension, no one should ever report real incidents of division and exclusion, because this does not fit the narrative of (largely-white) Americans who really believe that we are past all that Civil Rightsy-Dr. Kingy stuff and largely exist in communities that are truly "color-blind" and post-racial.   But, of course, that is not the reality for many Americans.

Perhaps the oddest turn is to watch commenters turn the word "racism" on its head.   Apparently referring to race is inherently racist, acknowledging division is inherently divisive and reporting flash points and conflicts make you a provocateur.

Case in point:  I never thought I would find it necessary to defend not Clay Aiken, who is being taken to task in the Twitterverse by another former reality show performer (John Rich). Apparently Aiken thought it would be funny to announce that he was playing a drinking game with his brother, in which both would take a swallow beer every time they saw an African-American in the Tampa convention crowd. Punch line? The hashtag is "#soberasamormon".

Well, as humor goes it's pretty predictable. One could easily imagine it as a throwaway line in a mediocre sitcom. But to call it "racist" as John Rich does, is an abuse of language and of logic. It is not "racist" to point out that the GOP isn't exactly the favorite party of African-Americans. It's simply a fact, one that Republicans like Michael Steele have pointed to as an area that needs improvement if the GOP wishes to maintain its status as a viable party. If leading Republicans can acknowledge this concern, it's not "racist" for a left-leaning celebrity to Tweet about.

The real truth is that some Americans, like John Rich, want to suppress any and all discussions that turn on race, for a variety of motivations. Obviously, if people get the (correct) impression that African-Americans are not flocking to the GOP, that's going to make it difficult for them to get some people's votes. That's bad for the GOP, of course, but Mr. Rich, you are not helping your party remain competitive by labeling Aiken's attempt at humor "racist". That kind of comment trivializes the very real racism that does exist in America today, but within the GOP and without. If you don't like the criticism, perhaps people in your party should be asking themselves why they can't make inroads with African-American voters.   Here's a clue: they don't think your rank-and-file is as scrubbed as you do, and they see the world in different terms based upon a common and continued experience of structural inequities.

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Too good not to share. Anyone who has read Hofstadter's 'Godel, Escher, Bach' all the way through is probably hip to this already, but it makes the point visually for people who've never had coursework in harmony or species counterpoint.

This is the famous "crab canon" from J.S. Bach's Musical Offering, which contains a highly-chromatic theme which is difficult to harmonize according to the species counterpoint rules that formed the foundation of much Baroque and Classical music, and which is still typically required of undergraduate music students to this day.  The theme is given in C minor, with three flats, among them Bb.   Interestingly enough, Bb is the seventh degree of the minor scale employed, but it is the only pitch class (10) that does not appear in the theme's original statement.   That means the theme stops just short of being one of those twelve-tone row forms invented by Schoenberg:

More than a little bizarre to see this in the 18th Century, but what Bach does with this jewel is a real treat for the mind as well as the ear.  According to some sources, this theme was either composed or collected by Frederick the Great, who was a great admirer of "Old Bach".   The king played the theme for Bach in 1747, when the giant of Baroque music was 62 years old.   Bach was not only old at the time, but was actually considerably less popular than some of his sons as a composer, because the public's tastes had moved away from contrapuntal music of a religious nature.   The "new music" was, more often than not, forms derived from popular dance and subject matter derived from classical Greece and Rome.   The Enlightenment was underway, and "enlightened men" no doubt thought all those canons and fugues passe.

It is interesting to think about Frederick the Great's motives (sorry) in this affair.   He was a decent amateur musician, but by all accounts preferred the new music.  Yet it was clear to the king that, fashionable or no, that "Old Bach" had mad skills that went far beyond what was being attempted in the new music.  In providing this Thema Regium to the old master, the king was essentially challenging Bach to apply his skills to a piece of music that was to some degree artificial, like the "Wissenschaft" motif in Also Sprach Zaruthustra.  While still tonal, just attempting a simple three-part harmonization that sounds sensible is actually quite a challenge.  To actually realize it as Bach intended from the minimalist single-line score is a significant feat of transcription, and to really effectively play the thing almost essential.   As with some of the Viennese serialists, one gets the impression that there is no meaningful distinction between composition and analysis for some of the "puzzle canons" that Bach derives from the king's theme.

Bach's motives (again, sorry) are a little obscure, as well.   It is doubtful that Bach actually expected either the King or his courtiers to really understand the work, or even be able to play much of it from the score he provided.  Playing the darn thing requires analysis, no button-pushers need apply.   In physical decline, Bach surely knew that he could've satisfied the King's request with some simple two or three-part inventions, or perhaps a chaccone using the King's theme as a ground bass.   That would've met the challenge in and of itself.   Instead, Bach invested great energy and thought into what became the Musical Offering.   The canons and fugues contained are some of the deepest and most intellectually challenging pieces to analyze in the entire (ahem) canon of western music.

It's a bit much to take in just by listening.  How wonderful, then, that someone has done the work of providing visuals that help convey some of the intricacies of Bach's genius: 

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